Bid for inquiry into SFC's handling of HKMEx voted down
Pro-establishment lawmakers defeat Liberal motion after talks with minister, liaison office
Tony Cheung and Jennifer Ngo
The Liberal Party leader saw his bid to launch an inquiry into the Securities and Futures Commission's handling of the Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange's collapse voted down yesterday.
Pro-establishment allies in the Legislative Council turned their backs on James Tien Pei-chun.
Tien argued an inquiry would help remove suspicions the financial watchdog gave preferential treatment to HKMEx, owned by former executive councillor Barry Cheung Chun-yuen. Allies countered that a new inquiry could hinder the SFC's ongoing investigation of HKMEx.
Only 30 of 65 lawmakers voted in favour of it - 25 pan-democrats and five Liberals - while 34 pro-establishment lawmakers voted against it.
Tien said: "The SFC was regarded as a credible institution … by setting up a select committee under the Legislative Council's power and privileges ordinance, we could find out how long ago they knew about the HKMEx's problems, and what they did about it."
Some of the lawmakers he had expected to back him but didn't had attended closed-door meetings with Professor Chan Ka-keung, the secretary for financial services and the treasury, and the central government's liaison office.
"If the government really has nothing to do with the SFC's handling of the case, and the minister had good reason to convince lawmakers to oppose the idea, why can't they explain to us publicly?" Tien asked.
One such lawmaker was Abraham Razack. He insisted that he had made up his own mind to vote against the motion. On the meeting at the liaison office visit, Razack said the officials had been just as interested as everyone else in what had gone on at HKMEx.
"The whole world would like to understand … things that concern Hong Kong's role as a financial hub, and it was my job to explain," he said.
Financial services sector lawmaker Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, who had questioned the SFC's impartiality, said he voted against because he did not want things to get politicised.
"I have [reservations] about whether the SFC was being negligent or too lenient towards the HKMEx, but our industry [treasures] social stability … and I think we don't need to rush into this," he explained.
Ng Leung-sing, another legislator for the financial sector, said he felt another inquiry could prove "confusing and repetitive".
The SFC and the police are both investigating HKMEx, which surrendered its trading licence to the financial watchdog last month amid questions over its financial position.
Barry Cheung quit all his public posts, including his Executive Council seat, after being dragged into the police investigation.
Meanwhile, SFC chairman Carlson Tong Ka-shing insisted yesterday: "There was absolutely no favouritism involved in the way we handled HKMEx.
"We have been fulfilling our responsibilities as a regulatory body, and I hope the people of Hong Kong can remain confident in us."